Umbilical Hernias in Puppies and Dogs | Not as Critical as Expected

By: Danielle Harris

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What Is and Umbilical Hernia?

umbilical hernias in puppies
Umbilical Hernia Diagram – umbilical hernias in puppies

An umbilical hernia is an outward bulging of the abdominal lining, abdominal fat, or a portion of abdominal organ(s) through the area around the belly button.

What Causes Umbilical Hernias in puppies?

Before birth, the umbilical blood vessels pass through the umbilical ring (an opening in the abdominal muscles) to provide nourishment to the developing fetus.

umbilical hernias in puppies
Puppy Standing Upright with Hernia Protruding Out – umbilical hernias in puppies

An umbilical hernia is caused by the incomplete closure of the umbilical ring after birth.

The hernia generally appears and is identified soon after birth as a soft swelling beneath the skin and it often protrudes when the puppy is standing, barking, crying, or straining.

Types of Umbilical Hernias

Some hernias are reducible, meaning that the protrusion can be pushed back into the abdomen while others are non-reducible indicating at least partial obstruction or adhesion of the herniated contents to the opening.

Size of Umbilical Hernias

An umbilical hernia can vary in size. Small hernias may close randomly (without treatment) by age 3 to 4 months. Umbilical hernias that do not close may require surgery, especially if a portion of an intestinal organ protrudes through it. Umbilical hernias are usually painless.

Is an Umbilical Hernia Dangerous?

Most umbilical hernias pose no health threats.

In rare cases, a portion of the intestines or other tissues can be trapped and blood flow is cut off to the tissue, causing its death. This is an emergency requiring immediate surgery.

How is an Umbilical Hernia Treated?

If the hernia has not closed by the time of spaying or neutering, surgical repair of the hernia is recommended. The surgery can be performed at the time of spaying and neutering.

It is recommended not to correct umbilical hernias in puppies less than 6 months of age as there is potential for delayed closure up to this time

Are Umbilical Hernias Genetic?

Most umbilical hernias in dogs are hereditary.

Sometimes trauma may be a legitimate cause. Clamping and severing the umbilical vessels too close to the body wall and bitches cleaning the puppies to rough, pulling at the delicate tissue may cause Umbilical Hernias.

Is it Safe to Breed Females Who Have Had an Umbilical Hernia?

Dog breeders and veterinarians again argue back and forth about the dangers of breeding a bitch who has a hernia or who has had a hernia repaired.

The argument is that the increased weight pressing down on the area from the pregnant uterus could cause the hernia opening to stretch and enlarge.

Still, dog breeders should at least be aware of the hernia problem and try to avoid doubling up on this defect.

An informal survey of reproductive veterinarians, estimate of 90 percent or more of all umbilical hernias in purebred dogs being inherited.

One veterinarian also pointed out, from experience, that dog breeders should not overlook hernias in their litters. This veterinarian had seen the development from occasional small, not serious, hernias to full litters with large hernias in one kennel since there was no selection against the trait.

Other veterinarians stressed that a small umbilical hernia was very minor compared to other serious genetic defects, and that a dog who otherwise was a good candidate for breeding, should NOT be removed from the gene pool just for this.

Any dog breeder whose dog has had an umbilical hernia repaired should notify anyone using their stud dog or purchasing a puppy from their female of the defect in the parent. Otherwise, the trait will be perpetuated.

There is no simple inheritance of a dominant or recessive gene, but the expression of the defect. The level of the defect may depend on multiple genes, not a simple one-gene dominant/recessive relationship.

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